Dinosaurs, stories, science and life: ‘The Little Dinosaur’ Blog Tour

Science has always been significant in my life – as a child I roamed free, observing the world around me, and at 12, I found my first fossil. I married an earthquake scientist and our son is an Antarctic climate-change scientist-in-the-making. How could I not regard science as an integral part of life? And I know many teachers despair because there are so many constraints to teaching science (with wonder) in our schools nowadays.

That’s why it gives me much pleasure to welcome author and science educator, Catriona Hoy as she launches her new book, The Little Dinosaur, a book that recreates a truthful and poignant story of a little dinosaur that lived millions of years ago in a part of Gondwana –  modern-day, coastal Victoria. The brilliant illustrations are by renown scientific illustrator,  Andrew Plant.

Welcome, Cat. Both you and I have dinosaur connections, I’m wondering what made you write about dinosaurs?

It wasn’t when I began, it was rather a case of serendipity. I used to write articles for Pearson’s educational magazines and one of the themes many years ago was ‘Dinosaur Dig’. For that issue I interviewed Lesley Kool from the Monash Science Centre. She inspired me so much that I felt I just had to write about one special dinosaur bone. Lesley showed me how scientists use clues from fossils to recreate the past. Lesley has an animal named after her by the way…it’s a Koolasuchus and there is a picture of one lurking in the deeps in the book.

She also told about someone called Andrew Plant, who was a dinosaur artist. Later I booked him to speak to my year 9s…he had three classes of year 9s in our lecture theatre absolutely enthralled. It was a bit like love at first sight, lol! I knew he was the one I wanted to illustrate my book. I had some great experiences researching the book , visiting dinosaur digs and museums and talking to some real experts.

How much does being a science teacher influence your choice of subject?
I don’t consciously  think…oh, I should write about this or that aspect of science.  If I did, it wouldn’t work, not for fiction anyway as you still need to have a narrative and a story arc that works and make the reader care. Some of my books, such as  My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day and Mummies Are Amazing have nothing to do with science. I write about things which I find interesting or funny or mean something to me personally.

Partial dinosaur skeleton from Dinosaur Cove, near Cape Otway, Victoria – image: Museum Victoria.

As a science teacher however, I’m more exposed to those kinds of influences and I see the science potential of certain ideas. The idea and story have to come first.  It was the same when I wrote Puggle. I met these terrific wildlife carers who introduced me to a baby echidna they were caring for. The subject and story came first and my science background helped me to give it added depth.

Catriona, this book has been a long time in the making…do you find that it’s difficult to ‘sell’ a book with science themes to publishers?
Yes, it has been a long time in the making!  I submitted my book to Lothian just after they’d accepted your book, Secrets of Eromanga. At the time, Lothian was my main publisher, so it sat in my bottom drawer for a while as they weren’t interested in two dinosaur books.  At the time I felt it was difficult to sell science themes but I think things have changed.  The schools market is very important, which is why many trade publishers have moved into the traditional educational market with a number of cross over series now around. Happily, Jane Covernton from Working Title believed in both Puggle and The Little Dinosaur and has helped Andrew and I make them a reality.

You give talks to other teachers about science and literacy; do you think this is important?
I certainly do. At primary school, there is a big push for science to be taught, yet there is so much science that is there already…we just need to make it a bit more noticeable. Primary teachers are fantastic at taking an idea and building a whole unit around something, be it a book or something else. I’ve started showing them how they can address many of the science themes in the national curriculum by looking at picture books and using those as a starting point.

What books would be your favourites then?
Oh, I don’t like to pick favourites. There are many around which deal with Biology…Mark Wilson and Jill Morris spring to mind. But also Glenda Millard’s Isabella’s Garden for life cycles and Claire Saxby’s There Was an Old Sailor for food chains. There isn’t such a variety of books for other areas but some examples are The Three Little Pigs as an old favourite for looking at materials and The Box Boy by Mal Webster. … and of course your own, Sheryl!

Catriona Hoy

 What’s next for you, Cat?
Well, my next book is called ‘Isla Lu, Where Are You?’ and it has nothing to do with science! It’s about my littlest Scottish cousin and playing a game of hide and seek. No glossary required, lol! I’ve got some ideas I’m working on science-wise but trying to mesh that story line and science is taking a bit of time. Who knows!

Cat, I love your blog site that links literacy and primary science through using picture books as a starting point in enquiry learning. What a great idea! Little Stories Big Science. Have fun for the rest of your blog tour for The Little Dinosaur.

The Little Dinosaur recreates a truthful and poignant story of a little dinosaur that lived millions of years ago in the land called Gondwana. It was cold, even in summer in Gondwana, and dark all day and night during winter.  The little dinosaur moved in a herd to protect her from other meat-eating dinosaurs. But after she fell and hurt her leg and she struggled to keep up, and one day, by the river, the herd was forced to leave her behind, and she soon died.  Over the years the little dinosaurs’ bones were covered with mud and silt. The silt turned to stone, the bones dissolved, and minerals filled the spaces where the bones had been. The little dinosaur became a fossil.

Cut to 1989, when the lower leg bone of the little dinosaur was discovered by palaeontologists on the Otway coast of Victoria in 1989. Then follow the story of the slow, painstaking work of scientists, artists and sculptors as they prepare the bone and piece together the clues that tell the tale of the little dinosaur who lived all those years ago. 

The Little Dinosaur Blog Tour Dates
Wednesday June 6, 2012
Robyn Opie Parnell 
http://www
.robynopie.blogspot.com.auWednesday June 13, 2012
Sheryl Gwyther 
http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/
Wednesday June 20, 2012
Tania McCartney 
http://www.kids-bookreview.com/
Wednesday June 27, 2012
Sally Odgers 
http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com.au/
Wednesday July 4, 2012
Jackie Hosking
http://jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/The Little Dinosaur Launch Dates:Melbourne Sunday 17th June, 2012, Monash Science Centre

Sydney Saturday 30th June, 2012, SCBWI conference

Tasmania Saturday 14th July, 2012  

‘Princess Clown’ and Sheryl on tour

Guest blogging on Robyn Opie‘s site today – it must be Thursday  8th July. EXTRACTING THE STORY – not as painful as teeth. Robyn is a prolific and popular Australian children’s author. Also includes a photo from the Elliot Dinosaur Fossil Dig in north-west Queensland. Check it out.

Friday, July 9 2010 – that’ s tomorrow, and we’re off to Catriona Hoy‘s blogsite for some very revealing questions during her interview.  I managed to answer all of them, but it sure was tricky! Catriona writes mainly picture books for children.

.  Check it out too!

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Blog touring with ‘Princess Clown’

To celebrate the launch of my new chapter book, Princess Clown, I’ll be touring the internet. 

Today, you can catch my tips about WRITING CHAPTER BOOKS on fellow Aussie author and good friend, Dee White’s blog. It’s on her regular TUESDAY WRITING TIPS.

If you would like to follow the blog tour, (and if you have never followed one before, here is your chance) check out the list below of all the great Aussie children’s authors’ blogs I will visit.

06 July Tuesday  Dee White – ‘Tips on writing chapter books’  http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

07 July Wednesday – Interview. Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine) http://soupblog.wordpress.com

08 July Thursday – A guest blog.  Robyn Opie www.robynopie.blogspot.com

09 July Friday – A guest blog. Catriona Hoy http://catrionahoy.blogspot.com

10 July Saturday – Interactive, especially for kids. Kat Apel katswhiskers.wordpress.com

11 July Sunday – how to prepare for the ‘real’ book launch.  Sheryl Gwyther 4 kids http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com

12 July Monday – Guest blog. Sandy Fussell http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/

13 July Tuesday – Interview. Sally Murphy www.sallymurphy.blogspot.com

14 July Wednesday – Interview. Claire Saxby www.letshavewords.blogspot.com

15 July Thursday – ‘Workshopping with young children’.  Mabel Kaplan http://belka37.blogspot.com

16 July FRIDAY - OFFICIAL BOOK LAUNCH CELEBRATION in Brisbane.

Many thanks to all the above authors for their time and blog space – both Princess Belle and I are grateful!

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Puggle and Cat … an interview

Celebrating the launch of PUGGLE, a picture book by Australian author, Catriona Hoy.

My guest blogger today is Catriona Hoy. Her new book, Puggle is the story of a baby echidna rescued from its mother’s pouch after she was killed by a car. From this sad beginning comes a positive story of a human’s compassion for injured bush animals, and a happy ending. Cat, welcome to my blog. I found out something I didn’t know in the information section in the back of your book – that baby echidnas are all called puggles. What a delightful name for them.

Thanks for having me over for a visit, Sheryl. Yes, I fell in love with the name Puggle as soon as I heard it. It was one of the things that wanted to make me write this story so much. It was always going to be the title.

Now I’m wondering who thought of the name in the first place?

I’m not sure who came up with the name in the first place but it is certainly in common usage. Apparently someone did try to patent the word but was unsuccessful. It would be like trying to patent ‘joey’.

What sparked your interest in writing about Australian animals?

Many years ago, a couple of my friends found an abandoned baby ring-tailed possum in their backyard. They took it to a wildlife carer but the carer couldn’t look after it at that stage. With a little help and instruction, they ended up raising the baby themselves until the carer was able to take over. I still remember that little possum virtually living inside my friend’s jumper all day and peeking out at the neck.

These same friends were the ones who introduced me to some wildlife carers when we were all on a family holiday together. They had the most magnificent house, full of injured animals or babies who were too young to care for themselves. There were jars of Milton sterilising solution in the kitchen and various dummies and teats soaking. There was a baby wallaby in a pillowcase, baby birds in a cage on the verandah, a koala with chlamydia…turtles, snakes, possums…every room of the house had it’s own inhabitants.

My girls had the most wonderful experience as it is not often you get to see how a mother wallaby would encourage the joey to go to the toilet. (They have a cloaca…try looking that one up).  We sat on the balcony and swatted flies. If we caught one it went in the jar to feed the baby birds.  We all went out to dinner but had to be back for the late night feed.

The most enchanting of all, however, was Puggle. He was the most helpless and vulnerable, no spines, no hair. Just a somewhat shapeless grey lump with a snout and some eyes which hadn’t opened yet. He had such a lot of growing to do before he could be released. So that’s why I wrote his story…the dedication of these volunteer wildlife carers and his own innate cuteness.

Along the way I found out so many interesting facts about echidnas. Some of these have been incorporated into the end papers of the book. I’d love to write about more Australian animals but the trick is to find the framework for the story that lifts it from an educational publication to a tale in its own right that children want to read.

Many don’t realise how long it takes from that first seed of an idea to final publication. Can you give us the ‘potted’ version?

I visited Puggle’s home in late 2006. I know the time because I was also promoting my book The Music Tree, which had just been released. It took a while to write the story as rather than being a straight imaginary piece, I wanted to incorporat information about echidnas. I had to do a fair bit of research. The book was accepted by Working Title Press in late 2007 and then the search for an illustrator began. Andrew Plant agreed to illustrate but as he had other commitments this took some time. It was scheduled for eventual release in late 2009 but for marketing reasons this was postponed until March 2010. So four years all up. No wonder I still have to keep teaching!

Puggle is published by Working Title Press, an independent publishing house in South Australia., under the guidance of and experienced hands of publisher and director, Jane Covernton. It specialises in quality picture books and illustrated fiction and non-fiction for children between the ages of 0–12. Can you tell us of your experience working with Working Title Press?

Jane Covernton has a funny reputation amongst authors and aspiring authors. She’s the sort of person you love to be rejected by! While so many companies send out standard rejection letters, Jane is well known for her thoughtful and encouraging rejections. With just a sentence, she can make you feel that, although the manuscript wasn’t her style, she had given your work careful consideration. When you think of how few books a small company can afford to publish, and the huge volume of submissions that probably come her way, this is impressive.

I still cringe at some of the things I sent Jane when I first started writing and I seriously hope she doesn’t remember them.  So I was very excited when Jane accepted Puggle and I’ve found the process thoroughly rewarding.

Jane pays the utmost attention to every aspect of the book and made me work hard during editing. I felt that I learnt a lot about the overall visual presentation that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I think she made Andrew work pretty hard too but we were both delighted by the final product.

As a small publisher, Jane has to have her eye on the bottom line, so books have to sell. But you also get the feeling that it’s not all about the money, that she wants to deliver a quality product that is uniquely Australian – no multi-national company here driven by a marketing department!

If people are looking to support Australian childrens publishing, Working Title Press is one of those very few who remain independent and devoted to enriching our children’s reading experience.

What are some of your other titles?

This is my fifth picture book. My best known title is My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day, illustrated by Ben Johnson. This was my first book and I was very fortunate that it was endorsed so wholeheartedly by the RSL. I still get emails about this book from people saying how it has touched them. In Townsville, veteran groups took up collections to ensure that my book went into every primary school, which was really special.

My second book is called The Music Tree, illustrated by Adele Jaunn. Anyone who has boys who like to bash things with sticks will appreciate where that one came from. I’ve met a few kindergarten teachers who say they have now built their own music trees.  Next came Daddies, illustrated by Mal Webster. I wrote this after my brother had his own children and mine screaming hysterically during a game of chasey in the hallway. The catchphrase is …daddies are for wild things.

Last year, Mummies Are Amazing came out for mother’s day. I wrote this book because my sister in law told me it was unfair that daddies got all the credit. My niece, Charlotte is in Daddies and my nephew Aiden gets to appear in Mummies.

Anything new in the pipeline?

Various things… I have a book due out in November, illustrated by Cassia Thomas, called George and Ghost. This is with Hodder in the UK and has sold to Korea and Israel. I’m looking forward to seeing my first overseas publication. I also have a chapter book which is currently being illustrated and I’ve just signed another book with WTP, again to be illustrated by Andrew Plant.

Cat, great interview! Much appreciated.

Thanks for having me, Sheryl, it’s been great chatting. All this talking about writing has made me feel guilty. Maybe I should go and do some writing!

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